Images of horse-trodden gravel roads and blue skies filled with whistling blue birds filled my mind as I planned our journey through the land of the Brothers Grimm. Among the sights I expected to see where romantic decaying cottages covered in ivy, crumbling castles buried in thorny brambles, and quaint inns that beckoned weary travelers with warm bowls of chowder and mugs of mead. In reality what I received was a bit different.
After leaving the Pied Piper’s famous home of Hamelin, we drove along small roads in a beautiful region of lakes and green hills. We were entering Cinderella’s country and were excited to see where this historic and mythical princess had truly called her home. As we pulled up to the tiny village of Polle, Sunday morning church bells welcomed us. Having spotted the castle walls set high on a hill, we drove up to an inn that stood in front of the entrance. Unfortunately, gates surrounded the stony ruins and we could not enter. In fact, the only time the castle was open was from 2-4pm each day. Only two hours to allow travelers a chance to glimpse into the past. After realizing what the glimpse would include however, I was happy to simply walk around the perimeter and take in the view. Each day, this mound of structural ruins was filled with costumed ladies and gentleman for two hours as they gave reenactments of the fairy tale story and signed autographs for children – more amusement park than historical information. We drove away from the village in disappointment and headed to the close town of Trendelburg, home to Rapunzel.
Once again we spotted the castle on a large hill overlooking the valley below. It was a picturesque view with the small brook and people fishing, and I couldn’t help but think that Rapunzel might have been a bit melodramatic about her plight in this beautiful tower.
We ascended the hill and were happy to discover that the castle was open for business. In fact, it had been turned into a hotel, so after asking if we could explore the public areas, we set out to discover the grounds and have some morning tea overlooking the town. I was glad that there were no actress feigning distress in a long blond wig, and that we could use our own imaginations as to what really took place there.
Next on our map was the home of Sleeping Beauty, or Briar Rose, as she is also known. Sababurg castle is in a remote area, and while not too far from Trendelburg, took much more navigation because of closed roads and construction. We made our way through a national forest and parked in a crowded lot of other fairy tale-seeking travelers as we entered the castle grounds.
Sababurg was most definitely open for business, as tour guides made their way explaining the significance of various decorations and architecture. But as was the theme for most of the historic monument we had visited in Europe, the castle was under construction and would not be open to view inside. We had to content ourselves with paying a fee to enter the famed rose garden instead. Were the flowers beautiful? Absolutely. They claimed to have over 100 varieties and be the oldest zoological gardens in Europe. But as to how they possibly managed to squeeze 100 types of roses in such a tiny, enclused space is a mystery. No bigger than an average living room, this small garden was filled with people who had also hoped to glimpse an immaculate collection of roses.
We walked around for maybe five minutes and then headed to the castle’s restaurant to try the gourmet food I had read about. And while we were the only people under 60 that were dining that day, and the food was astronomically priced, it was nonetheless good, and we had a nice view of the forest in the distance.
We called it a day after this, settling into a small Bed and Breakfast in a town that was even smaller. Dinner more than made up for the lunch we had received at the castle, and we fell onto the crisp white sheets exhausted from a day of exploring. The next morning we had a bite of eggs and toast, then piled back into the car for our final princess destination deep in the woods of Little Red Riding Hood country.
Snow White was said to have at one time lived in a beautiful manor of a mining town in the Schwalm region. As we passed the home, which is still owned by the family and not open to the public, I wondered if in fact this could be more of a reality than the commercialized fairy tales we had experienced. After all, most stories come from some form of reality, and a girl having a mean step-mother certainly isn’t far from what could potentially happen in today’s world.
We followed our map to the small village that Snow White was said to have escaped to, and arrived to more construction. No drarves digging for diamonds and rubies, this was a crew paving the bumpy roads, leaving a trail of mud for us to walk through. Excited about seeing the thatched roof cottage that I had envisioned to be the Seven Dwarves refuge, I wasn’t deterred by the rain or the slop. But there were no signs pointing us in the right direction, only a statue of the lady and her faithful companions. Not being very fluent in the German language at all, it took us both awhile to even locate a house that could possibly have been the location of Snow White’s abode. Finally, we spotted writing that had been carved into a home, which was hidden among all the others in the village. Nothing stood out about this house, but when we tried to enter we saw a small plague that read the opening hours – between 2 and 4pm. Grudgingly we walked back to car and headed to the town we would be staying the night.
I love stories. I love the imagination and creativity it takes someone to capture a character and scene. When there is legend behind the story, it creates in me a need to know the root of that legend. To dig into the history and find out the reason this person was immortalized within a tale larger than life. But I realized on the Fairy Tale road that what the Grimm Brothers did cannot be repeated. They captured local myths and legends and wrote it down for the first time, going from house to house collecting stories to tell the world. We as tourists and travelers can only read what they put into a book and imagine that specific moment which occurred long ago, getting a glimpse of castles and maidens as they would have been. What I realized is that the imagination is much more beautiful than marketing can ever attempt to make reality.